Prime Minister, where do you draw the line between tactics and opportunism in politics?

Jochen Buchsteiner

Political correspondent for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung in Berlin.

In politics, tactical finesse is sometimes necessary. But opportunism is not indicated. Looking at people's mouths is wise – saying what they say is not, said Franz Josef Strauss.

We are asking this because last year you warned against populism within the party, which was perceived as a position against party leader Merz and his asylum rhetoric. You are now one of the strongest supporters of an asylum transition. This strikes some as an astonishing transformation.

I've been doing politics for so long that I'm used to being described this way and that way. To be honest, I don't really care. In any case, my position on asylum policy has always been the same. Managing and limiting irregular migration so that we can do justice to those who truly need our protection. And I don't see the contradiction that you put into your question at all. In such a turbulent social situation, I can promote commitment in the matter and in the language – and still clearly call a spade a spade. This is also possible with a topic as difficult as asylum policy.

You have spoken out in favor of a massive reduction in immigration numbers.

I still do that.

Was your party's refugee policy under Angela Merkel a mistake?

The humanitarian impulse, at the moment when people came to us via Hungary and Austria, not to push them back by force was right. But today we also know that we should have worked much, much more quickly on solutions such as the EU-Turkey agreement, which later brought relief. That is undisputed today.

You are in line with Wolfgang Schäuble, who accused Merkel in his memoirs of not giving people pure wine and not drawing clear conclusions.

I don't know whether this needs to be held against her or whether she doesn't see it that way herself in retrospect. What I know is that today, with every asylum seeker who is not entitled to protection and still comes to us, we are moving even further away from our claim to those who really need help. We have the task of continually renewing the Federal Republic's promise of advancement. This is only possible, especially for immigrants, if people learn German early and can integrate early. But as a state we must also be able to create the necessary integration offers.

Friedrich Merz managed to prescribe a new course for the CDU within two years without causing any major problems. The party is also doing quite well in the polls. Is there still any doubt that Merz will be a candidate for chancellor?

Friedrich Merz is doing an excellent job as opposition leader in the German Bundestag. He is a pointed attacker. He is willing to work constructively with the traffic light on important questions, see special Bundeswehr funds, see also the attempt with Olaf Scholz on the topic of migration in the discussions in the Chancellery. As party chairman, he has made a huge contribution to ensuring that the Union parties are on good terms with one another again, and he has done an excellent job of driving the process of the basic program to such an extent that we now have a good basis for discussion at the party conference. Our friends in the East German states want the election campaigns in the fall to be fought on state politics – and the question of the candidate for chancellor to be decided later. Friedrich Merz agreed to this. I, too, will stick to this timetable and not counteract it with public statements.

In other words: There are still doubts about Merz as a candidate for chancellor.

I specifically didn't say that. I said that the schedule will be adhered to.

Do you plan to stand up for him?